After the Scotland Act of 1998 and the formation of the Scottish Parliament the following year, this was the first decade since the end of the 17th century in which Scotland was once again a country with its own parliament. Was that reflected in the books its writers were publishing? The answer must be no, unless the impact of greater political autonomy can be read into the increasing confidence and diversity of work being produced. One thing is clear, though: with only a few exceptions (notably James Robertson’s novel And the Land Lay Still) politics, of the party kind, have played less of a role in Scotland’s literature since Holyrood was established. In its place, there has been a stronger mood of exploration and experimentation. Also of genre writing, especially crime, a market Scotland seems to be cornering with its bare knuckles.
Our choices reflect that broadening outlook. They also reflect the flourishing of women’s writing in the past twenty-odd years, which has been one of the welcome features of Scotland’s contemporary literary scene. Janice Galloway and Ali Smith are in the premier league of Scottish writing, even though they are still only in the middle of their careers.
Rarely was the selection process harder than for these years, however. Just thinking about those we did not include is dizzying: we might have selected children’s novels by Julie Bertagna (Exodus, 2001) and Theresa Breslin (Remembrance, 2003). Or such novels as A L Kennedy’s blisteringly sad and funny Paradise (2004), Alan Bissett’s rollicking Boyracers (2001), Maggie O’Farrell’s poignant After You’d Gone (2000), Zoe Strachan’s wordly and knowing Negative Space (2002), Anne Donovan’s tender Glasgow story, Buddha Da (2003), James Robertson’s historical and political novel, Joseph Knight (2003), or Louise Welsh’s groundbreaking thriller, The Cutting Room (2002). The choice was ours, and it was exceedingly tough.
Rosemary Goring, Literary Editor / Columnist The Herald
Galloway came to prominence with her powerful novel, The Trick is to Keep Breathing, published in 1989. In the judges’ opinion, however, her best work so far has been her extraordinary novel about the pianist Clara Schumann, and her life, first as a prodigy under the iron fist of her ambitious father, and then as wife to a composer whose moods eventually tipped into insanity. Galloway’s depiction of Clara’s musical genius, and her exhausting shuttle between concert platform and home-front, is a bravura feat of imagination and literary invention.
Read an extract from Clara
Ali Smith’s novella Girl Meets Boy is a reworking of one of Ovid’s more upbeat stories of metamorphosis. Smith brings to this bubbly, mischievous romance all the skills that make her a natural short story writer. Her effervescent stream of consciousness style is brilliantly used in this story of a girl who falls in love with a beautiful boy – who looks like a girl. And maybe he is. After all, nothing in this book is as it seems, which is a motif that could stand for all of Smith’s quicksilver fictions.
Read an extract from Girl Meets Boy